Floor Statement of Sen. Chuck Grassley
“We Must Stop the Spread of Synthetic Drug Use”
Delivered Wednesday, February 15, 2012
In the fall of 2010, I came to the floor to speak about my growing concern of synthetic drug use in this country. Specifically, I raised concerns about a popular new drug known as K2 or Spice after a constituent of mine, named David Rozga, committed suicide. David killed himself shortly after smoking a package of the drug he and some friends bought at a local shopping mall. At the time, David’s death in June 2010 was one of the first deaths associated with what was a new and very dangerous drug craze. Now, nearly two years after David’s death, the use of synthetic drugs like K2 has exploded and is becoming a major problem across the country.
In 2009, the American Association of Poison Centers reported only 13 calls concerning synthetic drug use. In 2010, over 1,300 calls were made to poison centers about synthetic drugs. Last year, there were over 12,000 calls to poison centers regarding synthetic drugs. The Monitoring the Future survey, a survey of high school youth, asked students for the first time last year if they ever tried synthetic drugs. Roughly one in nine high school seniors responded that they had used synthetic drugs in the last year. These numbers are an astonishing increase in just two year, and this illustrates how rapidly the use of these drugs has come on the scene.
These drugs are having a terrible effect on those who use them. Emergency room doctors across the country are reporting increasing cases of synthetic drug users coming to the hospital. My staff heard from one such doctor from upstate New York about what she has seen. Dr. Sandra Schneider, from Rochester New York, reported that users in her ER experienced psychotic episodes, rapid heart rate, very high blood pressure, and seizures. In some cases users, many of whom were in their teens and twenties, suffered heart attacks and strokes, and died as a result. Other cases involved users who tried to kill themselves, harm others, or got into car accidents while high on these drugs.
How did we get here? The people who manufacture and sell these drugs have circumvented the laws to easily sell synthetic drugs online, at gas stations, in novelty stores at the local shopping malls, and in tobacco stores and other shops. Many of the drugs are manufactured overseas in counties like China and imported into the United States. They spray chemical compounds that have not been tested on humans and were not intended for human consumption on dried leaves. They package and market these drugs to appear as legitimate products like incense, bath salts, plant food, and snow remover. They slap a label on these packages stating that the product is not for human consumption to get around FDA regulation.
Over 30 states have passed laws to ban various synthetic drug compounds. The Drug Enforcement Administration has also acted to stop these drugs. Although the DEA has used its emergency scheduling powers to control seven chemical compounds, there are too many on the market now for the DEA to go through the long and laborious process to schedule each and every one. The makers of these drugs know this too well and have altered their chemical formulas, some as little as a molecule, to get around existing state and federal laws.
This is exactly the case in my home state of Iowa. Iowa passed a law last year that banned many chemical compounds; however, the law only listed a specific set of chemical compounds and the drug makers altered their formulas. Recently, two Iowa youths have become victims of the new drugs. One is a Polk County teenager who got into a high speed crash after smoking a product called “100% Pure Evil.” This teen had two other passengers in her car. After smoking this product, the driver became agitated and stated she wanted to kill herself. She started driving her car into several trees. When paramedics arrived on the scene they reported that everyone was badly hurt and the driver was vomiting blood. Thankfully, all passengers survived the crash.
Another teen in Central Iowa experienced a near death experience after smoking the same product. This teen purchased the product “100% Pure Evil” at a local store and started convulsing and vomiting shortly after smoking the drug. Once paramedics got this boy to a hospital he fell into a coma. He, however, woke from the coma the next day but had failed to recognize his mother or grandmother at the hospital. Thankfully, this boy has since recovered his memory. Now he suffers occasional anxiety attacks. When the boy’s mother told the police about the product and where he got it, she reported that the police told her there was nothing they could do about it because it was not known what was in the product and it may be legal. This product is still being reviewed to see if any compounds fall under Iowa’s ban.
Nearly a year ago, I introduced legislation, named after David Rozga, with Senator Feinstein, that bans the chemicals that comprise K2/Spice. We designed the legislation to capture a wide variety of compounds so it would not be so easy to circumvent this law by altering a molecule. In fact, the Iowa Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy is crafting new legislation, based on the legislation I introduced last year that captures more substances. My legislation was unanimously passed out of the Judiciary Committee last July. It is currently being prevented from consideration by the full Senate by one Senator. The House of Representatives passed its version of the Synthetic Drug Control Act overwhelmingly last December with more than 70 percent of representatives supporting scheduling these drugs.
Many of the opponents of this legislation stated on the House floor that by scheduling these compounds, we are preventing scientific research. That is far from true. Any scheduled substance, even current schedule I drugs like cocaine and heroin, can be researched. Any scientist can apply to be registered by the DEA to research any drug. Just because we are removing the drugs from the store shelves does not mean we can’t study them.
It is time for the Senate to take action. We cannot let the will of just one senator obstruct the will of many. I believe if our legislation received a vote and a fair debate, this body would pass it overwhelmingly. I urge my colleagues to support our efforts to get these drugs off the store shelves and off the streets. I urge the Senate leadership to allow a debate and vote on this issue. The American people, people like the Rozga family and others who have been victims of these drugs, want to see this poison removed from their communities.